City works to restore African-American cemetery with GPR
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City works to restore African-American cemetery with GPR

Source: CBS19, By Cherney Amhara, Posted: Wed 6:38 PM, Sep 21, 2016 | Updated: Wed 7:41 PM, Sep 21, 2016

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) — It’s believed that the Daughters of Zion Cemetery is home to at least 300 burial sites, but many are unmarked while the location of others is completely unknown. However, that may change as the city takes a glimpse below the surface.

The city of Charlottesville along with the nonprofit group, the Preservers of the Daughters of Zion, are starting the work of restoring the cemetery.

The city council recently approved $80,000 for that effort, and on Wednesday, they started putting that money to use.

Bernadette Whitsett-Hammond is one of the Preservers of the Daughters of Zion. Her great-grandmother is buried at the cemetery, but she, like many in Charlottesville, may have other relatives there they have yet to find.

“A couple of them have bird feeders around them,” said Whitsett-Hammond. “So there has been some way to try to acknowledge somebody was buried there.”

The historic African-American burial ground was created just ten years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. The Preservers say it is an important piece of Charlottesville history, but over time, it was forgotten.
“Over the years,” said Whitsett-Hammond. “We think the stones have either washed away, been removed or just deteriorated.”

However, with the $80,000 from the city, the grounds will be revived.

That’s where archaeologist Steve Thompson comes in.

“It’s been, if not ignored or neglected, unknown for a long time to many residents in Charlottesville,” said Thompson. “It does play an important part in the city’s history.”

Thompson is overseeing the project, which includes ground penetrating radar.

“It’s to essentially see below the surface in this setting,” said Thompson. “They’re looking for grave shafts and it can be a subtle return.”

Thompson believes more than the reported 300 plots exist in the two acres, but they have to test the ground first.

“Where we don’t have formal monuments or headstones marking the locations of burials, in many cases, there are depressions visible in the ground’s surface,” said Thompson. “Where graves are marked, they are close together, I suspect that 300 is a very low estimate. They’re probably many more here.”

As for the nonprofit group working to preserve the cemetery, members are waiting to find out.

“As I walk through the cemetery,” said Whitsett-Hammond. “I do realize how much of the history has been lost and we may never be able to capture that, but this is a new beginning.”

The archaeologist and radar professionals say they’re already seeing positive markings and expect a full report on a small portion of the site in 24 hours.

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